VICTORIA - Canada’s most decorated international swimmer is retiring, leaving an unfillable hole in the national team but also an unmatched legacy.
Victoria’s Ryan Cochrane made the announcement this morning on the CBC Sports Player’s Own Voice as well as in an interview with Scott Russell.
“Since the Games in Rio, I’ve been asked time and time again what my plan for the future holds. I have been flipping back and forth with gut-reaction emotions, moments of rational perspective, and oh-so-many moments of absolute uncertainty. Today though, I’m announcing my retirement from competitive swimming, starting a new chapter in my life and looking to find something that will provide me with new purpose and goals to chase,” said Cochrane, 28.
Cochrane won his first major medal in 2006, made his FINA World Championships debut in 2007, then stepped on the Olympic podium with bronze in his signature 1,500-metre freestyle at the Beijing 2008 Games.
Ryan Cochrane, Bronze Medallist (1,500-m Freestyle) at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
That launched an eight-year run of medals at 12 straight major international championships, including silver at the London 2012 Olympics. His eight long-course world championship medals are the most all-time by a Canadian.
Cochrane’s ascendance couldn’t have come at a better time for Canada, which had been shut out in Athens 2004. He helped restore pride in Canadian swimming, and carried the torch to give a new generation hope that medals were possible. Although he finished out of the medals in Rio 2016, he was co-captain at his third Olympics, and many credited him with laying the foundation that inspired the young team to believe they could reach new heights.
“For years and years we’ve talked about winning. This team was here to win medals,” Cochrane said after making his third straight Olympic 1,500 final, in which he finished sixth. “It was exhilarating to be on a team that never backed down, who won medal after medal, and normalized the Olympic podium. Seeing teammates constantly step onto the podium, knowing how much their lives changed in that moment, made Rio a magical place.”
The previous year may have been his most impressive considering the circumstances. Cochrane earned gold in the 400-m and 1,500-m freestyle at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, setting Games records in both. He went on to win his seventh and eighth world championship medals later that summer in Kazan, Russia, and earned Swimming Canada’s Male Swimmer of the Year award for the eighth straight time. Those achievements are even more impressive considering the difficult year he and his teammates faced due to the death of High Performance Centre – Victoria coach Randy Bennett.
“Representing Canada at the Pan Am Games as well as the world championships was incredible and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to stand on the podium multiple times,” Cochrane said. “We went right back to work after Randy passed away because that’s what he’d want us to do. I think we did everything possible to be the best athletes we could be in the water. We really pushed ourselves but that being said the emotional toll at the end of the year was tough.”
Bennett once described Cochrane’s incredible consistency as “like clockwork” and he had continued it with Bennett’s coaching successor Ryan Mallette. In addition to thanking both coaches when announcing his retirement, Cochrane thanked his parents, teammates and supporters.
“It’s bittersweet to leave the incredible team we’ve created at the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Victoria. I was constantly reminded of the sacrifice and dedication it takes from so many people in order for me and countless others to go after our version of an Olympic dream. Without everyone’s guidance and expertise, I likely would have found little success on my journey,” he said.
Cochrane won 27 A national championships, represented Canada in 16 different countries, won 24 major international medals and was ranked for 11 consecutive years in the world’s Top 8 in at least one event.
Cochrane’s importance to the national team, Canadian swimming, and Canadian amateur sport as a whole cannot be understated. A who’s who of the swimming and sporting world expressed their praise for the outstanding athlete and person:
Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and former Paralympian
“On behalf of all Canadians, I want to congratulate and thank Ryan for his commitment to the maple leaf and his outstanding contribution to our country’s rich sporting history. At the same time, his strong advocacy for drug-free sport and his involvement with numerous initiatives that promote the benefits of sport have inspired and motivated hundreds of young people to get more active. He leaves a legacy of excellence both in and outside the pool.”
Tricia Smith, Canadian Olympic Committee President and Olympic medallist
"Ryan’s success, passion and work ethic have inspired many young swimmers who can look up to him as they aim for the podiums at future Games. I will never forget Ryan’s 1500-meter seesaw battle at the Olympic Games in London. An amazing silver medal swim, and emblematic of Ryan’s equally amazing career. Ryan, congratulations and thank you for your commitment and all you have done for sport in Canada.”
Cheryl Gibson, Olympic medallist and Swimming Canada President
“Ryan has been the cornerstone of the Canadian swim team for the past 11 years. He has been a remarkably consistent elite performer winning multiple Olympic, World and Commonwealth Games medals. His commitment to swimming and the achievement of excellence made him a natural leader of our swim team and a mentor to our younger swimmers. On behalf of the Board of Swimming Canada, I congratulate Ryan on his stellar swimming career and his retirement from competitive swimming and wish Ryan all the best as he enters this exciting new phase of his life.”
Ahmed El-Awadi – CEO of Swimming Canada
“We have been privileged to have Ryan Cochrane represent Canada on the international stage for more than a decade. Ryan exemplifies hard work and commitment and has inspired the current wave of Canadian swimmers who are chasing the Olympic dream. His resume speaks for itself and we are proud of all of Ryan’s accomplishments throughout his career. We are appreciative of what he has meant to the sport and to our programs and we are confident Ryan will continue to inspire Canadians as he begins a new chapter in his life.”
John Atkinson, Swimming Canada High Performance Director
“Ryan Cochrane has been an exceptional performer for Swimming Canada at the highest level, having won 24 major international medals and been ranked for 11 consecutive years in the world’s Top 8. This demonstrates how he has been a true professional and he is a legend of competitive swimming for Canada.”
Ryan Mallette, High Performance Centre – Victoria head coach and national team coach
“For 11 years Ryan brought a reliable presence to every single national team in that you could always count on Ryan to perform. He has taught a generation of athletes how to be repeatable and reliable. He was the bedrock of the national team and you always knew that he would be able to perform. It was an honour and a privilege to be able to work with the most consistent swimmer in Canadian history. Even at the end of his career after 11 years, he never tried to find an easier way. Ryan was all-in and working harder than anyone else in the world to achieve his goals. He was a great example for every young kid coming forward that in order to be this good, you need to put in the work. Beyond the pool not only was he a great swimmer but a great ambassador for the sport and a great person.”
Hilary Caldwell, Olympic medallist and High Performance Centre – Victoria teammate
“I feel truly privileged to have gotten the chance to train alongside Ryan for the past eight years. Beyond his ability to work hard in training and excel at the distance sets that no one in their right mind would ever want to do, I was infinitely impressed with the mental toughness and consistency when it came to racing. It took me getting to a Top 3 in the world performance one year and experiencing how hard it was to replicate that performance the next year to really appreciate how amazing Ryan was as an athlete. To be one of the top two or three in the world for nearly a decade and to really be the anchor of the Canadian team for most of those years is so impressive.
“He set the bar for Canadian swimming. He taught me what it means to be world class. Training isn’t the same without him and come world championships this summer, the whole Canadian team will feel the loss of one of our leaders. I reluctantly admit that he can’t stick around forever and I’m sure everyone who has had the honour of being his teammate will join me in wishing him the best with everything he does in the future.”
Mark Tewksbury, Olympic gold medallist
“At a time when Swimming Canada was rebuilding, it was Ryan Cochrane that stepped up and led by example, winning medals at multiple world championships and Olympics. There was much excitement by the performance of the Canadian swimming team at Rio 2016, but that momentum started with Ryan’s medals at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.”
Brent Hayden, Olympic medallist and former teammate
“Ryan has been a leader on the Canadian swim team since the first time he swam for the maple leaf. His many achievements are a testimony to his character on and off the pool deck. It has been a pleasure to call Ryan a teammate and friend. And although he is retiring, his impact on Canadian swimming is everlasting. Congratulations Ryan and welcome to the ‘Swam Team.’ ”
Penny Oleksiak, Quadruple Olympic medallist
"Before I even thought about making national teams, Ryan was my inspiration. He was not only Canada's most successful swimmer, but he always seemed to achieve his results with a smile and always had time for the younger athletes. Last year in the lead-up to Rio, I was fortunate enough to receive personal advice from Ryan, about what was in store for me at the Games. I can never thank Ryan enough for all he has done for me and the sport. I know he will be successful in whatever he does next, and I know I can always count on him for support and advice in the future. Good luck Ryan!"
Benoit Huot, 20-time Paralympic medallist and former teammate
"It is been a great privilege to compete alongside Ryan over the last 10 years. We had the chance to be teammates at the Commonwealth games in Melbourne in 2006 and in Delhi in 2010. Ryan was an unparalleled competitor. During transition years, his accomplishments allowed swimming to regain its prestige. I've never met a swimmer with as much perseverance, tenacity, patience and relentlessness while pursuing and achieving his dreams. Congratulations Ryan on your magnificent career. Thank you for inspiring us and continuing to share your passion for life. Until we meet again."
Marianne Limpert, Olympic medallist
“Ryan has been such an impressive leader, not only leading up to Rio but also over the last several years. While the medals are definitely nice, it’s the person he is outside of the pool that people admire and will remember most. Ryan is a great representative for the sport of swimming and also for our country. His medal-winning performances from Beijing onwards have certainly helped the national program get to where it is today. He allowed the other swimmers to see that it is possible to get on the podium at the big meets and inspired them to want to do it, too!”
Erica Morningstar, Olympian and former teammate
"Ryan and I have been friends for over ten years and as amazing as he was as a competitor, he is an equally amazing teammate and friend. While he will be remembered by many for his Olympic medals, records and performances in the pool, I know his teammates and friends will remember him for much more than that. When times were good and when times were tough, no matter how far apart or how busy he was, Ryan was always there to listen, encourage, and tell you the tough things you didn't always want to hear, but needed to. I know he will be missed by the swimming community but I have no doubt in my mind that his success will continue outside of sport. Thank you for being an inspiring teammate and continuing to be such an amazing friend, I wish you all the best in your next chapter!"